American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 28

The Internationalization of Scholarship and Scholarly Societies


American Council of Learned Societies
Steven C. Wheatley

Latin American Studies Association
Reid Reading

Middle East Studies Association
Anne H. Betteridge

American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies
Dorothy Atkinson

Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies
Valters Nollendorfs

American Historical Association
Sandria B. Freitag with Robert Townsend and Vernon Horn

American Political Science Association
Robert J.-P. Hauck

Modern Language Association I
An Institutional Perspective

Phyllis Franklin

Modern Language Association II
A Report from the Field

Michael Holquist

American Academy of Religion
Warren G. Frisina

Society for Ethnomusicology
Anthony Seeger

Society for the History of Technology
Bruce Seely

American Society for Aesthetics
Roger A. Shiner

Dictionary Society of North America
Louis T. Milic

American Numismatic Society
William E. Metcalf

American Folklore Society
Barbro Klein


Scholarly communities are becoming international in scale, not just local or national. Scholars in all fields can today find colleagues across the globe. The end of the cold war, with the consequent relaxation of some long-standing barriers to travel, access and colleagueship, is one change that has helped this along. A second involves rapid advances in electronic scholarly communication which make possible the inexpensive, quick and reliable sharing of ideas, texts, and now even sound and visual images across very great distances. In many disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, new scholarly perspectives (postmodernism, cultural studies) are also encouraging exchanges across national borders.

On November 11–13, 1994, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies held a retreat to consider issues arising from this “Internationalization of Scholarship.” One hundred and ten people gathered at the Westfields International Conference Center outside Washington, D.C. to take stock of recent developments and to chart an agenda for the future. We explored together the extent and shape of this transformation, the likely future developments, and the opportunities and problems which have been created for scholars and for learned societies. We also sought to identify issues for further consideration by ACLS, by its member learned societies, and by public and private organizations which support scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. A summary of the Retreat has been published in the Winter/Spring 1995 ACLS Newsletter.

In advance of the meeting, each learned society was asked to prepare an essay on the internationalization of its activities and on the internationalization of scholarship in its area. Gathered here are 15 of these essays, chosen to give a representative sense of the ways in which internationalization has proceeded in the humanities and humanistic social societies. We have chosen the essays with a view to exhibiting the diversity among them. Essays from the other member learned societies are available on request from ACLS.

Among the 15 represented there is considerable variety in size, date of founding, articulated mission with regard to scholars in other countries, and magnitude and scope of the interational activities undertaken. A few were founded as international societies (particularly some of the younger societies), some as North American (largely embracing the U.S. and Canada), but most were founded to gather together scholars in the United States in a particular field. Whatever the original intentions, most of the learned societies now have a significant percentage or number of members residing outside the United States, and most now have important activities that reach beyond the United States.

A catalog of all the specific international undertakings mentioned in these essays would make quite a lengthy list, but it is worth outlining some of the major kinds of activities mentioned in these essays:

  • facilitating attendance by foreign scholars at annual meetings in the United States;
  • holding international meetings, conferences and symposia;
  • participating in the activities of an international learned society as one of several national learned societies;
  • sponsoring exchanges and lecture tours to the United States by foreign scholars;
  • encouraging submissions by foreign scholars to journals published in the United States;
  • appointing foreign scholars to journals’ editorial boards;
  • preparing scholarly resource materials (bibliographies, indexes, etc.) for scholars around the world;
  • donating journals to foreign universities which could not otherwise afford them;
  • disseminating professional news and information about scholarly resources via the Internet;
  • calling attention to encroachments on academic freedom in various parts of the world;
  • preparing curriculum materials in cooperation with scholars in other countries.

In short, the learned societies are now reaching to perform, in one way or another, almost every regular activity of a learned society on an international scale.

The main focus of most of the essays is on the internationalization of the activities of the learned societies, but there is also suggestive discussion of the internationalization of scholarship itself: how the disciplines themselves are being transformed in becoming international communities. More than just political or geographical boundaries are being crossed. Subfields within some disciplines are becoming less parochial or ethnocentric, alternative perspectives that have grown up in different national scholarly communities are now confronting one another in fruitful exchange, the boundaries between disciplines are becoming more porous, and some entirely new fields of study are taking shape. This collection of essays is in no way an adequate accounting of the important changes in scholarship that are being facilitated by increased contact among scholars from different countries, but they do provide some glimpses of the important transformations that are taking place.

By its very nature, scholarship tends to reach across national boundaries. International aspirations come relatively comfortably to learned societies. But the practical obstacles are substantial; the difficulties lie in moving from aspiration to accomplishment. In recent years, both technological and political developments have made international activities easier to undertake and more successful, but it is also worth noting some of the many organizations which have assisted the learned societies in becoming more international by contributing encouragement, organizational assistance, money, and advice. United Nations agencies (UNESCO), U.S. government agencies and programs (U.S. Information Agency, Fulbright Program, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation), foundations (Abe, Ford, German-Marshall, Huang Hsing, Luce, Mellon, Pew, Rockefeller, Soros), and organizations facilitating research and scholarship (the ACLS-SSRC Joint Area Committees, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, Committee for Scholarly Communication with China, Institute of International Education, International Research & Exchanges Board, the Council of Overseas Research Centers) are all mentioned gratefully in these essays, and this is certainly not a complete accounting.

From its very beginnings, the American Council of Learned Societies has sought to connect scholars and scholarship in the United States to scholars and scholarship abroad. These essays testify that we are in the midst of a very rapid increase in the scope and nature of international activity on the part of our member learned societies, and we remain committed to this goal.

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